When I was young, my sister used to tease that I was weaned on ugali and not “fancy” weaning food like Cerelac. I don’t know how true that was, but to date, my favorite meal is ugali served with meat and vegetables. Ugali is a dish made of maize flour cooked in boiling water to a dough-like consistency. It is the most common staple starch featured in the local cuisines of the African Great Lakes region and Southern Africa.
But the future of ugali is under threat! Here’s how I know: In late July, with a team of nine journalists, I had a chance to visit smallholder farmers in Iringa, Tanzania. These farmers are beneficiaries of the Rockefeller-funded YieldWise project that is implemented by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) across three countries: Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania. In Tanzania, the project seeks to increase smallholder farmer incomes by cutting maize post-harvest losses in half. Post-harvest losses are a major threat to food security in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly at a time when drought conditions have left some 37 million people without enough food. Tanzanian farmers lose up to 40% of their maize harvest due to poor post-harvest handling and associated losses.
[caption id=”attachment_7906” align=”aligncenter” width=”800”] Farmer preparing for maize shelling, Iringa, Tanzania. Credit: Burness/Saburi Chirimi[/caption]
In Irigina, I meet Vaileth Kasike, a 34-year-old mother of two. As a beneficiary of the YieldWise project where she underwent training on post-harvest management, she has been able to increase her level of production from her three-acre farm. She takes us round her house where we see specially designed plastic bags known as PICS bags that can be “hermetically” sealed, meaning they can be made airtight to kill off grain-devouring weevils. She is also using small, air-tight metal silos to store her maize harvest on the farm.
[caption id=”attachment_7907” align=”aligncenter” width=”800”] Vaileth Kasike shows maize from her metal silo,Iringa, Tanzania. Credit: Burness/Saburi Chirimi[/caption]
Not far from Vaileth’s farm, Matthew Kaundama, shows us his maize bags being processed by a motorized maize sheller, which he says reduces the drudgery and time involved in hand shelling.
[caption id=”attachment_7909” align=”aligncenter” width=”800”] Farmers from the Mangalili Farmers Association process maize in Iringa, Tanzania. Credit: Karel Prinsloo/Arete/Rockefeller Foundation/AGRA[/caption]
Allen Dallu, the chairman of the Kiponzelo Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO), shows us his harvested maize stored on top of a tarpaulin as it awaits shelling. He introduces us to members of SACCO who, through the World Food Program, have secured a forward delivery contract to deliver maize to Musoma Food Company. With better storage, they are able to have surplus grain to sell.
[caption id=”attachment_7908” align=”aligncenter” width=”800”] Caption: Musoma Food and Co. collects maize from Kiponzelo Savings and Credit Cooperative, Iringa, Tanzania. Credit: Burness/Saburi Chirimi[/caption]
The work ongoing under the YieldWise project shows there is promise to feed Africa and the world by identifying and addressing food loss and waste across the global food system. I left Iringa hopeful; maybe my future children will be weaned on ugali after all!